In Defence Of Hollywood’s Worst Enemy, The Mockbuster
Few clowns are willing to stand up for these crafty, low-budget knock-offs, but maybe I’m stupid enough to give it a shot…
Are you sound asleep? Because that’s the only way the marvellous mockbuster could pass you by. It’s hard to miss the umpteen major motion pictures eclipsed by these fellas, usually dropping around the same time as their muse hits movie theatres.
Typically found sporting horror or sci-fi B-film apparel, these high-concept, straight-to-DVD flicks piggyback on the razzmatazz of the pricey marketing campaigns of prominent features with copycat titles, themes or artwork. In this way, filmmakers often manage to slyly fox less seasoned film fans into believing the real McCoy awaits them as they settle on the sofa, snacks in hand.
Snakes on a Train and Paranormal Entity are but two of the most overt attempts to hoodwink viewers in recent years. Others — like War of the Worlds and Journey to the Center of the Earth — don’t even bother making a stab at the subtlest of changes, replicating the title of their source material verbatim.
In one sense, it’s easy to accuse those behind mockbusters of professional chicanery that goes well beyond the pale. Plenty of the biggest Hollywood studios certainly do — and alongside fairly intimidating threats too. In another, it’s near impossible not to admire their audacity — something of which nearly all creatives can be accused at some point or another over their career.
Anyhow, what is it the omnipotent ‘they’ say? Ah, yes, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. And — with many mockbuster production companies reporting annual revenues running into the millions — it’s one that turns a sweet profit.
Many of these companies swear blind that their intention is not to impose on the trust of consumers, nor to mislead their bread and butter. Instead, they strive to provide wider choice. Naturally, the cohort of novice cinephiles who wind up fleeced — as the result of knowing efforts or otherwise — have the right to feel peeved. Yet, indie production company The Asylum claims the low number of people requesting refunds after renting its mockbusters indicates that most select these junky flicks on purpose.
With a few exceptions, compliance with copyright legislation is high. Because the bulk of mockbusters are only loosely based on the general premise of their source material, The Asylum and other studios normally cover their backs well.
Even most word-for-word titles fly under the radar since they’re inspired by stories already in the public domain. This is especially true of the folk tales several Disney movies stem from. GoodTimes Entertainment, for instance, released Aladin and Beauty and the Beast to coincide with their Disney counterparts.
At times, the proverbial crap hits the fan, like when Brightspark was taken to court over duping consumers with Tangled Up and The Frog Princess. The studio was instructed to destroy all copies of the offending titles.
Legality aside, there exists an ever-expanding band of time-served movie buffs and critics willing to look past the brass neck of cineastes brazenly capitalising on the endeavours of major studios. You don’t merely need to take The Asylum’s word for that though. Why? Because I’m part of that merry band.
For me and my fellow bargain-basement B-movie enthusiasts, the likes of The Amityville Haunting and Jack the Giant Killer are far from erroneous picks. By contrast, we select these rogue titles with eyes wide open, singularly eager to cast aside our hotdogs and popcorn — as well as our love of quality filmmaking — to scoff down the fun, wilfully shlocky indulgences they offer. Once the closing credits roll, we paradoxically announce, “It’s dreadful — I love it.”
For any cynics, let me make one thing crystal clear. As B-movie gastronomes, we’re not purely on the lookout for any old tripe. Not by any means. We crave only the finest entries in the broad so-bad-it’s-good genre — mockbusters so terribly trashy they constitute little short of sheer joy.
While the features touched on so far sit comfortably within that canon, others don’t come close to making the cut. Sadly, in my role as a film critic, I’ve been forced to endure a few of the latter recently, and they’re just frightfully bad and barely watchable. Nonetheless, for the sake of respecting the hard work of their creators, let’s steer clear of roasting these atrocities.
So, yes, independent studios may very well cash-in on the buzz surrounding the pictures they imitate, but they’re more than aware the market for their products is thriving. But why is that market thriving? Why is there such a hefty bunch of movie nerds out there salivating at the concept of cheesy, cut-price impostors filling their Friday nights?
A straightforward answer to that is: Why the dickens wouldn’t there be?
In all honesty, souls like me see a unique mash-up in mockbusters. And we’re addicted to it — that compelling blend of unflagging energy poured by filmmakers into their craft and the consequent production of wittingly tacky material. Ultimately, they achieve what they set out to do, and that’s grand.
That same appealing combo can’t be found in bad or even good-bad flicks falling outside mockbuster boundaries. Even if their creators are guided by passion, they don’t have comparable intentions. These projects flop when they are initially scheduled for success, which evinces a lack of fire — not necessarily in filmmakers but in the work itself.
As a critic, while I can’t avoid attacking this inadequacy now and again, I do feel strongly that deriving pleasure from the blunder of any fellow creative is frankly a smidge unkind and twisted. Even if titles like The Room — possibly the most renowned so-bad-it’s-good example of all time — gain cult status due to their epic cinematic failure, I can only imagine how it must feel to be ridiculed for an undertaking I hoped would be taken seriously. Who knows — perhaps I will be sooner or later. Perhaps I already have been.
Deliberately cruddy movies are, however, fair game. They’re made in the knowledge ridicule will surely follow. In fact, the term ‘mockbuster’ might be a double entendre, referring not only to imitation but to mockery too. When we groupies find these poacher features, we get it.
We understand our screens won’t be graced by the familiar faces of our favourite actors, but by those of second-rate Z-listers. We laugh at the acting, at the concepts, at the titles. And we laugh along with the studios who brought all of this into our lives. It’s good-hearted fun to be taken in the spirit in which it was intended.
With any luck, if you’re one of the hordes of bewildered consumers chucking two-quid copies of newly-released major motion pictures in your supermarket baskets, I’ve thrown some light on the situation. If it saves you a penny or two, terrific. If I’ve made you view mockbusters with fresh perspective, priceless. If I’ve made a fan out of you, well, you’ve cheered-up my day more than a cheap Tuesday at the picture palace.